Moving Beyond Limits: Children with Autism

In News by Ira Feinstein

by Karen Toth, GCFP

I have been teaching the Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education since February 2007. Initially, I had no intention of working with children. My background was in Pilates, aerobics, and weight lifting; I was interested in working with anti–aging and elite athletes. Little did I know, I would fall in love with working with youngsters during my training. Since then, I have worked with a number of children on the autism spectrum, as well as those with other neurological concerns.

After eight years of working with children on the spectrum, it is still amazing to hear the parent’s stories of transformation. Though each child who comes through my door is different, my intention with each is the same: to increase the child’s awareness of his or her self in a gentle, purposeful manner. During a lesson, I will have them slow down, be more cognizant, and move more fluidly through their joints. Depending on the age of the child, I make the lesson about improving their skills around a sport that they like, a video game they play, or something else they love to do. This somatic education is a gentle way of telling the child, “You are perfect the way you are,” and “let’s see where we can improve the way you do what you like!”

In order to illustrate the depth of the changes that can be experienced, I’ve included the stories of two of my students below.

Johnny*
Johnny, a twin, was five years old. He was very active and not able to pay attention to anything for any length of time. Before the Feldenkrais Method, he had tried hyperbaric chambers, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy. His parents initially signed him up for ten lessons.

Johnny’s father was excited to report back to me the changes he noticed after each lesson. He went from a quiet, internal boy who infrequently interacted with the world to a child who recognized the people in his life who loved and cared for him. His drawing, once devoid of people, began to include family members. He started calling his parents “mommy” and “daddy.” Johnny began playing at the playground and alternating his feet as he walked down stairs. His sense of his body increased to the point where he could inform his parents when he needed to defecate. His teacher noticed that he was sitting and listening to the concerts at school. His parents were overjoyed by the differences.

Clark*
Clark was the first child I worked with on the spectrum. He was five at the time we started lessons. Clark spoke and acted violently toward his sister. His mom was on high alert all the time, keeping the two apart. This was eventually alleviated over the course of our sessions.

Clark had soreness throughout his body and felt pain from the lightest touch. He was very clumsy. His feet were turned in, which tightened his toes and hands; his neck, jaw, and shoulders were tight. Initially, Clark was not willing to stay on the table for the entirety of the lessons, so I focused on him for five minutes and then his mother for two. The solution worked well and increased Clark’s wiliness to participate.
I have seen this child for eight years now. He asks for me when he feels pain in his neck. His mother has recorded, in detail, the changes that have occurred since the beginning of Clark’s lessons.

After first set of sessions:

  • No tripping up the stairs, better balance
  • Asked for help to stop biting nails
  • Played with a toy car normally
  • Stopped flailing his arms when running
  • Wrote “I love you mom!”
  • Was able to throw and catch a ball!!
  • Improved overhead arm movement
  • Very interested in football
  • Built a security checkpoint for our family trip (imaginative play)

After second set of sessions:

  • Less tripping up the stairs and when running down a hill
  • Toes aren’t as pointed
  • Arms are looser at sides (not tucked in like a bird’s wings)
  • Threw ball better in the ball pit
  • Asked to wear glasses
  • Played nicely at playground
  • Gave high five more accurately
  • Danced to “I like to move it”
  • Huge improvement in pencil grip and forming letters
  • More symbolic play – cars with the city rug mat
  • Used computer
  • Doing more puzzles on own, a bit easier for him
  • Lots of interest in writing, crafts, and model helicopter
  • Wrote “J” with the hook the right way
  • Able to put on own seat belt

Karen Toth is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitionercm, an Anat Baniel Method (ABM) Practitioner, and an Anat Baniel Method for Children Practitioner. In addition, the title of her article was inspired by Anat Baniel’s book Kids Beyond Limits. Find out more about Karen and her practice at: http://www.healthybodymoves.com/


*Names changed to protect anonymity.